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Six Easter-inspired Italian phrases explained

The Italian language is laden with Easter-related expressions, and some can be used all year round. Here are six of our favourites.

Six Easter-inspired Italian phrases explained
Italians often say you can spend Easter with whoever you like. Photo: Paige Cody/Unsplash

Easter is a key event on the national calendar in overwhelmingly Catholic Italy’s calendar. So perhaps it’s not surprising that sayings related to the occasion feature so heavily in the language.

Bonus points if you manage to drop any of these into conversation at Easter lunch with Italian friends or family.

1. Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi

This phrase means that there’s an expectation you should spend Christmas (Natale) with family, but Easter (Pasqua) can be celebrated with whoever you want to spend it with.

This is especially the case for Pasquetta (“Little Easter”) or Easter Monday, which is usually a day for a barbecue or a trip to the seaside with friends.

Although, let’s face it, it’s tough to refuse invitations from all the relatives and this phrase might not get you out of yet another big family occasion.

2. Felice come una Pasqua

Here is one of those phrases that doesn’t make sense if you literally translate it into English: “Happy as Easter”.

You can get the sense though, which is that someone is really happy. You could translate it as, “Happy as Larry”. Easter signifying pure joy comes from marking the end of Lent. Fasting and repentance of sins are over – now is the time for cheerfulness, springtime, travel and brighter days to come.

READ ALSO: 12 signs you’ve cracked the Italian language

As happy as Easter. Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash

3. Lungo come una Quaresima

Speaking of Lent, this Italian expression describes a period that seems to drag on forever.

It literally means, “As long as Lent”, which lasts 40 days in the run up to Easter and involves plenty of praying and the giving up of vices – or, nowadays, what we’d probably think of as treats.

You may see the similarity between this word and “quarantena” (quarantine), which stems from the Italian word “quaranta” (forty). That was the number of days people had to stay in isolation in times of the Black Plague.

4. Quando Pasqua verrà il 25 aprile

Speaking of waiting for the impossible to happen, this phrase describes an extremely rare event, such as the English expression, “Pigs might fly”.

It literally means, “When Easter comes on April 25th”.

But what’s so significant about that date?

In the Gregorian calendar, this is the date least likely to be Easter and so denotes an unusual occurrence. Legend has it that God made a promise to the devil that he could enter paradise if Easter ever fell on April 25th.

Pasqua bassa (short Easter) – if Easter falls between March 22nd and April 2nd In fact, Italians split Easter dates into three categories:

Pasqua media (medium Easter) – if Easter falls between April 3rd and April 13th 
Pasqua alta (tall Easter) – if Easter falls between April 14th and April 25th

READ ALSO: The top ten Italian words that just don’t translate into English

Eating another Italian lunch is a cross to bear. Photo: Aaron Burden/Unsplash

5. Portare la propria croce

This Italian phrase means “to carry one’s own cross”, just as Jesus is believed to have done in Holy Week. You might say in English that we “have a cross to bear”.

We can infer, therefore, that someone is dealing with a lot of pain and experiencing tough times if they use this phrase.

6. Le pulizie di Pasqua

Time to banish the drab and all that no longer serves you. Le pulizie di primavera, or ‘Easter cleaning’

Much like in ‘spring cleaning’, as we’d say in English, it means Easter is time for saying goodbye to the old and welcoming the new.

Even though cleaning is almost akin to a national sport in Italy, this is a time for even more meticulous washing – it’s a representation of change and a transition from winter to spring.

One saying goes: “L’olivo benedetto vuol trovar pulito e netto”, which means, “The blessed olive tree wants to find things clean and clear”.

Which makes it sound as though, in Italy, even the trees are judging the state of your kitchen.

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For members


Italian expression of the day: ‘Andare a manetta’

Today's phrase has us firing on all cylinders.

Italian expression of the day: 'Andare a manetta'

Are you ready to put pedal to the metal and go full bore when it comes to learning this expression?

Andare a manetta (and-AH-rreh a mann-ETT-ta) in fact means just that: to go at top speed, flat out, at full pelt. 

Conveniently for English speakers, it translates pretty directly from the phrase ‘to go full throttle’. Andare is of course the verb ‘to go’ and manetta is the Italian word for a throttle, an old-fashioned sort of lever used in vehicles to regulate the amount of fuel being fed into the engine. 

To go full throttle was to channel the maximum amount of petrol possible into the motor so that the car could reach top speed, which is where both phrases come from.

Running Late On My Way GIF by Minions

Like in English, it can be used refer literally to, e.g., F1 drivers, but is often used in a metaphorical sense. It’s the kind of colloquial phrase that you’re more likely to hear in spoken conversation than see written down in a book, and is most widely used among young Italians.

Se vuoi arrivare entro un’ora dovrai andare a manetta.
If you want to get there in an hour you’ll have to go full tilt.

Stiamo andando avanti a manetta con questo progetto, non mi importa quello che dice Stefania.
We’re going full steam ahead with this project, I don’t care what Stefania says.

You don’t need to restrict yourself to the verb andare: there are various actions that could be done a manetta, such as parlare a manetta (talk at top speed), alzare il volume a manetta (turn the sound up to top volume – e.g. on the TV or radio), or piovere a manetta (tip it down with rain).

Parla sempre a manetta, è estenuante.
She always talks at full throttle, it’s exhausting.

È la mia canzone preferita, alza la radio a manetta!
This is my favourite song, turn the radio up as loud as it’ll go!

Relaxing Season 3 GIF by The Simpsons

You might wonder if there’s a connection to manette (handcuffs) but the two aren’t to be confused: the etymological link comes simply from the word hand (mano), a manetta being a hand-controlled thrust lever and manette being, well, handcuffs.

To help you differentiate, aside from context, you’ll almost always only see manette in the plural form, whereas a manetta is only used in the singular form.

Toglietemi immediatamente queste manette!
Take these handcuffs off me at once!

Parlavi a manetta ieri sera.
You were talking at a 100 miles an hour yesterday evening.

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.